The global pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives. Typical family stressors include financial and career difficulties, physical and mental health issues, and the mundane challenges of everyday life. The pandemic has exponentially magnified those stressors and families are already showing it. Family courts will see the fallout over the next several years.
Initially, the courts will see an increase in motions seeking modifications of support and custody orders based on substantial changes in circumstance. Soon thereafter, the increase in divorce actions will become evident as couples reassess their relationships and deal with the financial difficulties arising from the United States economy being shut down and uncertainties of re-opening it amidst continued health concerns.
It remains to be seen whether our courts are up to the challenges created by the current emergency. Prior to the pandemic, family courts were already overwhelmed with high volume, and were being forced to manage legal issues driven by social factors beyond their control. Post pandemic, these systemic problems will become even more evident. Persons in need of legal representation are well advised to retain counsel capable of discerning alternative approaches to dispute resolution. Immediately filing a motion or divorce complaint may be an exercise in futility and a further drain on family resources already strained, if not destroyed, by the economic devastation of COVID-19. Reasonable settlement scenarios should be identified and proffered to the other side. Of course, effective negotiation strategies should be utilized, but flexibility should be encouraged. Sometimes “buying your peace” and the controlled certainty of a result that comes with it, is the best possible outcome.
Unfortunately, not all circumstances are amenable to settlement. That is why we have courts. In such circumstances, litigation must be guided by an assessment of realistic goals and the cost of achieving them. The attorney should do a full intake of the legal issues and the factual background. Then there must be an honest and candid discussion regarding cost of representation. This must be a continuing conversation throughout representation and rooted in the understanding that you need value for your money and the attorney must be paid to work. Neither client nor attorney should take the approach of seeing how it goes. That is a disastrous recipe that will insure a disappointing legal result and an embittered attorney – client relationship. Both are antithetical to value.
Periodically, a potential client will pose the question to me “are you a shark?” It is an interesting question and would be particularly helpful for the client seeking to follow the advice in this article. If the attorney responds affirmatively then you can be assured that they will not hesitate to run up your legal bill by creating or magnifying contention between you and the other party. If the attorney responds that they are not a “shark” then you can assess the credibility of their response as it relates to your circumstances. Certainly, you do not want a passive attorney ready to concede every point without negotiation. However, you do want one who will be cognizant of getting you value for the cost of their services.
For me, I respond to that question as follows. “No, I’m not a shark. That implies mindless ferocity. Rather, I am a zealous attorney who understands that you need to receive value for your money.” That is the approach we take at Earp Cohn P.C.